LISD to discuss requiring masks
The Lockhart ISD administration and school board on Monday will broach what has been the $64,000 question for Texas school districts over the past couple of weeks.
That night, at its 6:30 p.m. regular meeting, the board will discuss whether it will require students and teachers to wear masks on campus amid concerns about the spread of the Delta variant of COVID-19, a rising caseload, and a low number of available pediatric ICU beds in the Austin region.
While a number of surrounding Central Texas school districts have mandated mask wearing, Lockhart ISD has adhered to an executive order by Gov. Greg Abbott prohibiting local governments and public entities from requiring facial coverings, promising fines and penalties for those who break code.
The district’s messaging about its upcoming agenda was released minutes before a statement from the governor’s office reporting Abbott had tested positive for COVID-19.
“We understand there are some school districts that have implemented a mask requirement, defying the Governor’s orders,” wrote Superintendent Mark Estrada in a letter to parents and guardians dated Aug. 17. “At this time, in consultation with our legal counsel, the district believes we must follow the law. However, the LISD Board of Trustees will be discussing this issue and potentially taking action at the upcoming regular board meeting on Monday, August 23, 2021.”
The meeting will be held at the LISD Administration building at 419 Bois D’Arc and will be streamed online on the district’s website.
Caldwell County Judge Hoppy Haden said he was not considering mandating masks in public buildings located within the county and wouldn’t consider backing a facial covering mandate in the schools unless the school districts expressed a wish for it.
“For me, if the law gave me the ability to institute a mask mandate, I would not consider one in the schools unless the school districts said they were on board with it,” Haden said.
In the letter to parents and guardians, Estrada strengthened guidance surrounding facial coverings, which prior to this week were said to be “welcome” and “encouraged.”
“As we return, we are ever mindful of the reality of the current situation with rising cases of the Delta variant of COVID-19, and we approach this year with a sense of urgency in our ongoing commitment to take measures to help keep our staff and students safe as well as protect the continuity of learning and services for our students,” Estrada said. “While the Governor’s executive order prohibits school districts from requiring masks, we do urge everyone to wear masks to help slow down the spread and keep people safe.”U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, who addressed faculty and staff via a video feed at the convocation ceremony — an orientation and pep rally for educators and administrators — urged those in attendance to wear facial coverings, encourage students to wear them and get the vaccine if they haven’t already, and had strong words for those who choose to believe in alternative theories and disinformation.
A visible number of teachers went maskless during the event, which was held in the Lockhart High School auditorium, although a majority appeared to be wearing facial coverings.
“It’s important to make sure that the kids take home their schoolwork and books, but not the virus,” Doggett said. “I would hope our teachers, especially our science teachers, would base their decision making on reality and wouldn’t rely on junk science and conspiracy theories. You wouldn’t just guess on test questions.”
“I’m not as much concerned about masks as I am those who wear blindfolds.”
Lockhart school officials in July when it unveiled their pandemic response plan for the 2021-2022 school year. The plan included continuing education, transparency, regular self-screening among teachers and employees, virtual tutoring for sick students and hygiene and sanitation protocols.
In creating its protocol for the upcoming school year, Brents said the district sought guidance from the Centers for Disease Control Prevention, the Texas Education Agency and its employees.
The district plans to continue sending home letters when a student has been potentially exposed to a case of COVID-19, and will continue to maintain its case dashboard to give the community an accurate case count.
The district has posted the document it calls Leading Forward 2021-22 on its website in English and Spanish. It can be found under “Quicklinks” at the top of the district’s website.
Masks were required indoors and outdoors during much of the 2020-21 school year.
The CDC’s latest guidance recommends local jurisdictions encourage universal indoor masking for all teachers, staff, students and visitors to schools, regardless of vaccination status.